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AP Top 25 Takeaways: Oregon-Washington embrace 4-down football; Resetting the Heisman Trophy race

Oregon offensive lineman Charlie Pickard (70) and offensive lineman Steven Jones, center, react after a missed field goal by Camden Lewis on the final play of the team's loss to Washington in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Imagine football without the kick.

No. 8 Oregon and No. 7 Washington gave a glimpse into that world Saturday in what might go down as the game of the year.

The final play was a missed field goal by the Ducks — cruel irony in some ways — that allowed the Huskies to stay unbeaten, but both Oregon coach Dan Lanning and Washington’s Kalen DeBoer embraced four-down football.

And we all should — even when it doesn’t work out.

In two years as a head coach with Oregon, Lanning has made it clear he believes punting and place-kicking are only a last resort.

A failed fourth-down late in last year’s game against the Huskies and going 0 for 5 on fourth down against Oregon State kept the Ducks out of last year’s Pac-12 title game.

“We’re an aggressive team,” Lanning told ESPN at halftime Saturday after passing on a chip-shot field goal on the last play of the second quarter and instead failing on fourth-and-goal from the 3.

“We’re going to go play to win the game. We’ve got an opportunity to get a touchdown. We know that’s a big swing for us,” he said.

After the game, Lanning took a different tone.

“I’ll certainly go back and evaluate myself. It’s about adapting — the game’s about adapting and getting better,” he told reporters, before adding: ”This game’s 100% on me. I don’t think you guys have to look anywhere else but me.”

The Ducks finished 0 for 3 on fourth down, passing on another chip-shot field goal in the third quarter and then deciding not to punt on a fourth-and-3 near midfield with 2:11 left.

Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies cashed in that short field for the go-ahead touchdown.

On the other side, Washington converted 2 of 3 fourth downs. The miss came in the fourth quarter, down four, from the Ducks 1.

When those decisions don’t go well — as was the case for Lanning — they become fodder for the embrace-debate sports media. No doubt Lanning will be blasted with tired and vague complaints about coaches who are too reliant on analytics these days.

A good case can be made that Lanning should have taken the points late in the first half. Penix had just thrown an interception that gave the Ducks a bonus possession down 22-18.

Oregon also was set to get the ball back to start the second half. Lanning got greedy, seeing a chance to throw a middle-eight haymaker in a game between two sensational offenses.

The second fourth-and-goal at the 3 came with Washington up by 11 midway through the third quarter. Far more justifiable to go there. So was the last one at the Washington 47 with the Ducks up 33-29.

Oregon had the advantage with its offense against Washington’s defense. So why not use that advantage to try to put the game away and keep the ball away from the prolific Penix?

Don’t rush to pencil in the Ducks and Huskies for a Pac-12 championship rematch in Las Vegas. The rest of the conference is too good and both still have to play No. 10 USC, No. 15 Oregon State, No. 16 Utah and No. 19 Washington State. Beware the Beavers, especially.

As for Lanning, he should take the blame for the loss, because that’s what a good coach does.

Maybe he needs to dial back his fourth-down aggression a touch, but in modern college football, where yards are not that hard to come by for teams with talented quarterbacks, Lanning’s process is fine.

And incredibly entertaining.


Archie Griffin’s record looks safe.

Caleb Williams’ chances to become the second two-time Heisman Trophy winner — joining Griffin, the former Ohio State star — took a huge hit at No. 21 Notre Dame.

The USC quarterback threw three interceptions to put the No. 10 Trojans in a huge hole that they never could dig out of.

“I made mistakes that I usually don’t make,” Williams told reporters. “Been in college for three years now, I don’t think I’ve ever had a season or a game or anything like that.”

Conceivably, Williams can bounce back. He’ll have plenty of big-game opportunities, but the reality is the team around him does not look like a serious championship contender.

As great as Williams is, if the Trojans trudge to the finish, Heisman voters will look for other options.

Penix heads into the second half of the season as the Heisman favorite, having thrown for 2,301 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Who else?

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel surged last week with a memorable performance against No. 9 Texas.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye has been very good if not quite great for the 12th-ranked Tar Heels, but expect his candidacy to get a bump after throwing four TD passes — three to recently reinstated receiver Tez Walker — against No. 25 Miami.

Jayden Daniels has carried No. 23 LSU. Oregon’s Bo Nix should stay in the conversation. Expect Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and Georgia’s Carson Beck to become factors as the two top-ranked teams in the country start playing more high-profile games.

Looking for a non-quarterback? Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison and Georgia tight end Brock Bowers could emerge with big-stage games late in the season.


— Arkansas (2-5) lost its fourth straight overall ( and 17th straight against Alabama ), which is likely to increase chatter about the job status of coach Sam Pittman. The Razorbacks’ schedule eases down the stretch, but something to keep in mind: Pittman’s buyout drops substantially if his overall record is under .500. Right now, it’s 21-22.

— Texas A&M fell to 4-3 with a listless offensive performance against Tennessee. That ensures coach Jimbo Fisher will go six years in College Station without a 10-win regular season. It seems unfathomable to even consider, but firing Fisher before Dec. 1 would cost the school $77 million.

— Just a few days after Kentucky coach Mark Stoops complained about how the program needed fans to contribute more money for NIL to buy players the way Georgia does, the Wildcats were routed at home by Missouri.

AROUND THE COUNTRY: Think of how different this Colorado season would have gone if the Buffaloes (4-3) had the same record as they currently do but had lost the TCU game as expected, never became a ranked team and won the Stanford game as expected. The most interesting part of the Deion Sanders experience will be how he responds to the reality that he’s coaching a program that still has a long way to go. … As bad as Colorado’s blown lead was, it paled in comparison to Boise State’s. Colorado State beat the Broncos for the first time by scoring 21 points in the final four minutes, the last seven on a completed Hail Mary. That walkoff long pass touchdown was the second of Week 7 after Houston beat West Virginia the same way Thursday … No. 16 Utah turned to its defense and conjured up memories of Eric Weddle to give a boost to its offense against Cal. Safety Sione Vaki carried the ball 15 times for 158 yards and two TDs against the Bears. Weddle, the All-America defensive back, used to dabble at running back during his time in Salt Lake City. … For Kansas State, it was a freshman quarterback who sparked the offense. Avery Johnson shared snaps with Will Howard and ran for five touchdowns in a win over Texas Tech. Interesting development for the Wildcats, the Big 12 team most likely to stop a Texas-OU title game. … Iowa’s offense is regressing and banged up, but the Hawkeyes just keep rolling behind their stingy defense and excellent special teams. After stifling Wisconsin, Iowa is in control of an otherwise inept Big Ten West. There is a legit chance the Hawkeyes roll into the conference title game 11-1. … Nothing is more Pitt than the Panthers breaking a four-game losing streak by blowing out No. 14 Louisville, the week after the Cardinals defeated Notre Dame. … With Oregon, USC and Louisville going down, there are 11 unbeaten teams left in FBS. … It’s time to rank Air Force. The Falcons remained unbeaten with a gutty victory against Mountain West rival Wyoming in which they overcame a late injury to quarterback Zac Larrier. … No. 1 Georgia,No. 2 Michigan,No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Florida State won conference games by a combined 171-37. … Huge comeback for win for Rutgers against Michigan State, which imploded on special teams. The Scarlet Knights (5-2) need one more victory to get to six and bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014.


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